No one bites back as hard on their anger/ None of my pain and woe can shine through…
—The Who, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’
Way, way back when. It was Bruce Wayne returned from the Wars. It was the reassertion of the Batman identity, what that identity truly meant far away from the ultra-violent perversion stand-in Batman John Paul Valley made of it.
But that’s not what anyone really remembers. Not the story, not really. Rather the emotional shape of the work lies at the heart of the memory. It is Bruce Wayne standing on that precipice, doubting that he would be able to reclaim the identity. It is Nightwing, it is Tim Drake’s Robin, Catwoman. It was allies and enemies shaped by the necessity of a world in which the Batman existed.
But for all the pure joy of Knightsend for all the radical reassertion of the Batman mythos, wasn’t the great undoing of the previous summer’s Knightfall (which saw the Batman fail for the first time, against a seemingly infinite tide of villains) something of a missed opportunity?
Wasn’t Knightsend a chance to define what the Batman is for? Rather than the the almost ridiculously simple tale of a rich orphan punishing the victims of poverty who turned to crime, what might the Batman be, if it could be used for something rather than against it?
But the opportunity to define the character was lost. Batman collapsed back into a newer darker self (after another brief hiatus, this time handing the mantle to Nightwing’s Dick Grayson). Once again shuffling off friend and ally alike.
It would be another 15 years before the debate could be tabled again. Another fifteen years before Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel. Before Batman R.I.P.. And yet even then, the full story of what a Batman’s for couldn’t yet be told. The coincidence of Bruce Wayne appearing in Batman R.I.P. while concurrently appearing in DC’s Final Crisis mega-event needed to fully explained, coordinated. A linear story needed to be imposed and applied. It would be a further two years until Batman R.I.P.: The Missing Chapter.
from Batman—The Return of Bruce Wayne #5
And with those years elapsing, almost in a blink, the haunting, melodic theme of Batman: R.I.P.’s chapter ‘Miracle on Crime Alley’ became ever more distant. “Hang around for years and you get to see the layout”, the Gotham Gargoyles whisper, “The people make the city and the city makes the people”. And later in that same chapter Bat-Mite offers, “Something… happened here a long time ago. Call it a miracle on Crime Alley. From the sad graveyard, ashes of a little boy’s worst nightmare, something unforeseen arose, didn’t it?” And in the backdrop, the legendary Mark of Zorro plays on the movie screen of Bruce’s memory. “This will remind you that I have been here once, and can return”, Zorro declares as he gestures to the Z carved into a nearby wall.
These oneshots aren’t about Bruce Wayne having returned. They aren’t about him testing his former allies. They aren’t stories about him proving himself against his children grown older.
These are stories about the promise that not yet but soon, we’ll all know what a Batman’s for.
They are the promise of Lifehouse the legendary rock opera that The Who never made. The rock opera about the mythic, vital energy of rock music, and the Guru who would eventually ensure that there would never be another day without rock.
These oneshots are sublime.
They are the last half hour before the Oscars, the 15 minutes of fame before the Nobel is finally announced. They are a life’s work, more than a life. The life of a character far older than ourselves. They are the hope of a character far older than ourselves, reaching forward into tomorrow. They are about, what a Batman is for. A Batman freed from having to clean away the Pandora’s Box he opened simply by existing in the world.
Did you ever think it could feel like this? How could you?